We’re all connected. No matter how independent we may think we are, we have connections that impact us on our journey in this world which we can be both barely, and very, aware of. Everything we do touches someone or something else.
Recently, via Speak Up For Women NZ, I sponsored a young woman to do a six week ‘Introduction to Feminism’ live webinar course facilitated by The Centre for Feminist Thought (UK). Due to the time zone differences, it was a bit of a tricky time for a young woman in New Zealand to attend. However, we still received a wonderful, and successful, application from a young woman who works for GEE Nepal, an organisation that helps vulnerable and disadvantaged girls in Nepal.
As the successful applicant stated, it is important to be able to teach these girls how to empower themselves and other girls. Nepalese girls are very often subsumed by an unkind, and sometimes cruel, patriarchal society, and have no concept of how to centre or stand up for themselves. She considered that learning about feminism would enable her to pass the knowledge onto her girls in Nepal in a coherent and educational manner that would help them.
The two courses that The Centre for Feminist Thought teaches lean towards second-wave feminism in content. They eschew modern university-style Gender Studies, as those courses tend to have too much focus on theories and philosophy, and the idea that being a woman is just a concept in one’s head, rather than focusing what’s real for women in the material world¹. Theories, philosophies and concepts such as those taught in Gender Studies are of very little use to women in real life – and are actually causing some social issues now – and are of no use at all to girls like those in Nepal.
After our successful applicant had completed The Centre for Feminist Thought’s course, she wrote a very captivating synopsis on it, as below. Now, in a very, very miniscule way, I feel a connection to those girls in Nepal 🙂
Here’s our young woman’s story –
“I want to extend my gratitude to the team at Speak Up For Women for giving me the opportunity to attend the Introduction to Feminism Course, hosted by the Centre of Feminist Thought. Having previously called myself a self-proclaimed feminist, I was naturally drawn to this course. I also wanted to have a deeper, personal understanding of the term and learn how I might then be able to apply this deeper understanding to the advocacy work I am involved with at GEE (Girls Empowered through Education) Nepal. Our vision at GEE Nepal is to provide young girls with educational opportunities, and to uplift them in a time and place where trafficking and poverty are significant influences. In the future, we aim to increase the number of girls graduating from secondary school and expand our offerings to have a greater impact in Nepal. We do this by providing vulnerable girls in Nepal with education scholarships so that they can pursue goals and opportunities that they otherwise couldn’t achieve.
Since being actively involved in this field of work, I have had a growing understanding of the impact of a patriarchal society on women and their often inability to truly thrive and flourish in such a social construct, especially in developing nations. One aspect of the course explored patriarchy- its theory and origins as well as the power and control that it resembles in a social context. Here I learnt that patriarchy effects all women and we all face some form of oppression whether we are aware of it or not. This was a really challenging observation for me because I felt I had been blinded to the reality of this, thinking that we were unaffected by this in the Western World. When in fact, I learnt that patriarchy is more subtle and therefore harder to recognise in our societies. This especially emphasised to me that it is so important for Feminists to unite and work together to make a change globally.
Early in the course we also explored the ‘waves’ of feminism, liberal feminism and feminism as a ‘civil rights’ project. What struck me most in this section was the issues of the tension between ‘equality’ and ‘difference’ in feminism. This part of the course impacted me in a personal way and challenged the way that I thought about Feminism because for so long I thought that the end goal was equality with men. However, I quickly learnt that the issue with this goal is symbolic of a system that would still be centred around men – doing life by the ‘male model’ as this is already dominant in society. The term ‘difference’ however, challenges feminists to acknowledge the importance of political activity and generational change in families to explore what a universal female subject might look like. This in fact sums up a radical feminist perspective which is to re-shape the world to hold women’s way of living more fully.
As women who all came from very different backgrounds, some working for large Global Feminist organisations and others pursuing careers that were traditionally seen as ‘male jobs’ such as electricians and engineers; it was incredible to be able to reflect on the relevance of the course material to our current situations. We all completed this course with a much richer, deeper understanding of Feminism, specifically radical feminism and found this to be beneficial not only in a professional context, but in a personal one too. For me, it made me reflect on the kind of mother I want to be for my future children and the importance of mothering for the future of the Feminist movement. Given that we have literally been given the gift of producing life. At GEE, we talk about the ripple of effect of a young girl being educated as she will grow up to be an educated mother who will raise educated children, which will then someday produce an educated community. I believe this is the same for Feminism and I look forward to being part of the change that together we can create in the world for women. “
¹Disclaimer: I haven’t done the Gender Studies course at university, but base my comments on those who have.